WHITEHALL, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Joe Kelley has run businesses around Whitehall since the 1990s, when he first opened Joe’s Pizza on Broadway. He still remembers the date: September 24, 1998.

In the decades since, Kelley has expanded to different corners of the northern Washington County town. First came the introduction of Bigfoot Wine & Liquor on the same property, followed by a move across the bridge over the Champlain Canal, where he operates an ice cream parlor and BBQ business. After a flood in 2020 ruined the foundation of the original pizzeria, and an electrical fire tore the building down in 2022, Kelley has been rebuilding his starting point – while selling pizza out of the BBQ business. He’s doing it while keeping one eye on the future – thanks to a retail cannabis license he was approved for just a few weeks ago.

“The way it ended up rolling around, if you had a marijuana conviction of a low level prior to a certain date, and you had proof of running a business and making a profit for at least two years, you could apply,” Kelley said on Thursday, while sitting on the edge of the new foundation in the works at his pizzeria’s first home at 132 Broadway. “I was lucky enough to get a card license two Mondays ago.”

Kelley was invested in the marijuana conversation in New York before the drug was legalized in 2021. The business owner followed the work of The Last Store on Main Street, a coalition that advocated for certain methods of legal cannabis sale in New York prior to its legalization. The coalition had data showing that liquor stores tended to lose as much as 25% of their business in states where dispensaries started to open, and advocated for marijuana to be sold in liquor stores in New York so as not to endanger existing businesses.

Things changed once state regulations came into effect, but for Kelley, as the owner of a liquor store, the path was clear. If one form of business should lose money to another, why not have a hand in both?

Now, Kelley is one of 165 cannabis retail licensees in New York – and among just 11 from the Capital Region or further north. The license is provisional, meaning Kelley has to find or build a space. He plans to do both – one in Whitehall, and another in Glens Falls.

“When you have a marijuana license, 3% of sales go back to the local community,” Kelley explained. “It stays right here in Whitehall, if the store is in Whitehall. If it’s in Glens Falls, it stays in that community – but we can have up to five locations. If one store is sustainable, there’s no reason not to.”

Kelley has the paperwork in to operate a delivery-only cannabis dispensary at the site of the once-and-future pizzeria and liquor store on Broadway, operating out of either an existing storage space or a trailer. The business would act as a home base for him or an employee to operate from, delivering products to residents around Whitehall – and potentially nearby parts of Washington County.

On Tuesday, Kelley visited the Glens Falls Common Council to talk about the other half of the plan – opening a full, walk-in dispensary downtown in the city. Glens Falls has voiced active interest in welcoming a dispensary in the past, and Kelley has his sights on downtown. He previously considered the former CVS location on South Street, due to its sizable parking lot, but has since settled his hopes on 176 Glen St. – a block shared by Raul’s Mexican Grill and Davidson Bros. Brewpub.

“It’s a very large, growing city. North of Albany, I think it would be even more beneficial of a spot than Saratoga. Saratoga seems to be more like a three-season location, while Glens Falls is four-season. People will walk around that city all year-round on foot.”

Kelley originally hoped to keep both businesses in Washington County, reaching out to the village of Hudson Falls and the town of Kingsbury. He learned that both communities had imposed six-month moratoriums on marijuana sales, following the opening and quick closure of “sticker store” locations shut down for selling stickers and patches with cannabis products offered as “free gifts.”

The first wave of licensees in New York are all those who have previously faced charges related to marijuana possession. Kelley laughs when talking about his own case – he was pulled over for an unrelated reason that he went unticketed for, but was charged after a police officer found a pipe in his pocket. He did 10 hours of community service for an area fire department, which he looks back on as a positive experience.

In cannabis as in all things, Whitehall comes first for Kelley, who hopes to have the delivery business running out of his Broadway property by the time the new pizzeria is constructed. The restaurant will house two Airbnb properties on its second floor, to help offset the cost.